Kigali has thrown down the gauntlet in its plan to expand its national carrier RwandAir across the continent, and challenge the dominance of regional leaders, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.
The airline has recorded sharp growth reaching 29 destinations across the globe at the close of last year; but the icing on the cake for Kigali has been the Qatar government’s recent fixation with Rwanda’s aviation sector.
Having signed as many as 101 Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (Basa), Kigali has laid the foundation on which the airline can plan to open up more routes without rigorous bureaucratic complications.
"The Basa agreements give us flexibility and ease the process of starting new routes. If the decision is made to look at opening a new route, we do the business case and decide whether it makes commercial sense to start that route," RwandAir CEO Yvonne Makolo, told The EastAfrican. "This is good and with all this goodwill for Rwanda, this is the right time to get all these agreements in place and then make a decision when we are ready to open up more routes."
Competition for airspace in Africa is becoming tighter by the day with many airlines – some recently revived like the Ugandan and Tanzanian airlines – plying the same routes.
Comparatively, Africa’s largest airline – Ethiopian Airlines known by the codename ET– flies to 105 international destinations while the financially troubled Kenya Airways serves 55 destinations.
Even so, the continent remains acutely underserved, which gives plenty of room for more airlines to compete favourably by opening routes to virgin territories.
And as competition for routes goes, many airlines on the continent are now seeing each other not just as competitors but as partners in several aspects.
For RwandAir, much as Ethiopian Airlines is a huge competitor, they are also partners when it comes to aircraft maintenance.
"Competition is good and I am a big fan of it because it keeps us on our feet and forces us to do things properly, to benchmark ourselves and to keep improving. The African market is underserved; so there is potential and room for all of us to play," said Ms Makolo.The government has largely financed RwandAir’s expansion using external debt. The airline’s long-term debt largely contributed to Rwanda’s net external borrowing growth to 5.1 per cent of GDP, up from 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2017, according to the World Bank.The World Bank also estimates that between 2013 […]